Hamilton breaks arm on play at plate

Two oddities at Comerica Park on Tuesday afternoon: One was the play that caused the fracture in Josh Hamilton’s upper right arm. The other was his postgame explanation.

It all amounts to undue April worry for the Texas Rangers, who happen to own the best record in baseball despite a 5-4 walk-off loss to the Tigers.

The Rangers announced Tuesday evening that Hamilton will miss 6 to 8 weeks because of a small break in his humerus bone — all because of what the superstar called “a stupid play.” And Hamilton made clear that Rangers third base coach Dave Anderson was, in fact, the architect of said lunacy.

“I definitely shouldn’t have done it,” Hamilton said, after the game but before receiving the diagnosis. “That’s a little too aggressive.”

The ’10 Rangers gave us the “Claw and Antlers.” But what’s the gesture for throwing your coach under the bus?

OK, the facts: With one out in the first inning, Hamilton stroked an RBI triple to right-center. The Rangers took a 1-0 lead. This was routine for Hamilton, the reigning American League Most Valuable Player. He’s already hitting .333 this season.

Hamilton finished the play with a headfirst slide into third.

Anderson and the other Rangers coaches usually tell Hamilton to slide feetfirst. (Trust me: This will be important later on.)

Adrian Beltre was the next to bat. He popped the second pitch into foul ground along the third-base line. Third baseman Brandon Inge and catcher Victor Martinez converged on it. Both were in position to make the play, and Inge squeezed it for the second out.

But Detroit starter Brad Penny, wind breaking between his ears, forgot to cover the plate.

Oops.

Anderson noticed this as Hamilton tagged up. Anderson said later that he wanted to “steal a run” — even with Nelson Cruz, the major league home run leader, about to take his first turn at bat. The Rangers are an aggressive team on the bases, and there is something to be said for being true to your identity.

There was only one problem with Anderson’s plan: Hamilton didn’t want to go.

“The whole time I was watching the play, I was listening (to Anderson say), ‘Nobody’s at home. I want you to go. Nobody’s at home,’ ” Hamilton said. “I was like, ‘Dude, I don’t want to do this. Something’s going to happen.’ ”

Hamilton being Hamilton, something happened.

“I listened to my coach,” he said, “and I went.”

Inge made a perfect feed to Martinez, like a well-timed football screen pass. Martinez beat Hamilton to the plate easily. So Hamilton decided to slide headfirst — something he says he doesn’t often do — in a last-ditch effort to avoid the tag. And as Hamilton reached his right arm toward the plate, he felt Martinez’s tag, hard on his shoulder.

He was out. The inning was over. But now we know that wasn’t the worst part.

“I heard two pops,” Hamilton said. “I figured it came out, went back in and it was done, and it’s going to be sore. But I don’t know. They didn’t think it did that.”

No, it didn’t. He had sustained a nondisplaced fracture. It should heal without any lingering effects. But it is a fracture nonetheless.

Hamilton’s right arm was in a sling as he ate his postgame meal. When asked how his shoulder felt, he answered, “Hurting.” It will be a month before he swings a bat. And the postmortem is not likely to be pretty.

Anderson spoke with reporters after Hamilton’s “stupid play” statement but before the Rangers announced the extent of the injury. At that point, he had not talked with Hamilton about the decision.

Anderson offered a reasonable explanation — that he wanted to take advantage of Hamilton’s speed, that the Tigers had to execute perfectly, that he can’t worry about injury risks every time he makes a decision during fast-paced major league games.

But this has the feel of a day Rangers fans will lament all season, and maybe much longer than that. Surely, they recited the what-ifs over their Tuesday suppers.

This wouldn’t have happened if Anderson kept Hamilton at third.

This wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton went with his own instincts.

This wouldn’t have happened if Hamilton, who had right knee problems last year, had been more confident about sliding feetfirst.

On Tuesday morning, the Rangers could talk about a pitching staff that owned the lowest ERA (2.22) in the major leagues. By Tuesday night, they had to consider whether their franchise player deserves one of the least-flattering descriptions in baseball: injury prone.

“I’m hesitant to use that label,” general manager Jon Daniels said. “You’re looking at an extremely athletic man — 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, with the way he runs and aggressive style with which he plays. You don’t usually see that in guys that size. That combination of size and athleticism does put him at risk. But I would want him to continue playing that way. It’s paid great dividends in his career.

“Eight weeks from now, he’ll be back swinging the bat for us, and we’ll turn the page.”

Yet, it’s fair to wonder where Hamilton goes from here. He turns 30 next month. This injury probably will cost him in the neighborhood of 50 games. By the end of this season, Hamilton will have five years in the major leagues — and more than 135 games played in only one.

He won the MVP last year despite missing most of the last month because of two fractured ribs. And his body was so battered by injuries in 2010 that his bio in the team press guide includes a category called OTHER INJURIES.

Among the words found there: infected root canal … right knee soreness … patella tendinitis in right knee … cortisone injection for the knee … Synvisc shot for the knee … lower back stiffness.

The irony, of course, is that Hamilton was the designated hitter on Tuesday — a position that, in theory, would involve less wear and tear on his body than his customary role in the outfield. But he got hurt, anyway. And it happened in a way that may not be forgotten for a long, long time.

“Maybe,” Rangers manager Ron Washington said, “he should have stayed.”